Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Atholl Expedition (a guest post by Alex Roddie)


(Alpine Dawn #1)
by Alex Roddie

Long-term readers of this blog will have heard of Alex Roddie (that's me), former barman of the Clachaig Inn and founder of this website - although it's now run exclusively by my brother James. I am an author who writes in the small and obscure genre of mountain fiction. My first novel, The Only Genuine Jones, was critically acclaimed when it came out in late 2012 and some readers may even have attended the book launch event for the paperback edition at the Clachaig in February 2013.

It's my pleasure to announce that my second novel, The Atholl Expedition, has now been published as a Kindle ebook. A paperback edition is due to launch in early 2014.

Introducing James Forbes in the quest for Scotland's last glacier.

SCOTLAND, 1847. Convalescence doesn't suit Professor Forbes. When one of his former students appears exhausted at his door, telling stories of bloodthirsty gamekeepers and a mythical glacier in the heart of the Cairngorm mountains, he can't resist the chance for another adventure. However, his journey coincides with a visit from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and the Royal Consort has an ambition to shoot the oldest and most cunning hart of the Atholl estate.

Forbes is soon involved in the chase of his life - with perhaps one last chance to make his name before it is too late.

The wilderness of the Cairngorms is trodden by legendary stags, demons of local folklore, and a few brave souls all seeking very different things from the wild. This is a tale of life in the Scottish mountains before mountaineering began.

Click here to download your copy on Kindle.
International readers click here

I am tremendously excited about this new project. The Atholl Expedition isn't just a new book for me; it's the start of a much larger voyage, a fictional journey into the origins of mountaineering itself. In the Alpine Dawn series I hope to visit many places known to readers of this blog, not limited to the Scottish Highlands but venturing into the Alps as well ... and it was a very different world in the 1840s.

The reviews are already starting to come in. Here's what outdoor blogger Alistair Young, owner of Stravaiger's eBothy, has to say about The Atholl Expedition:
This is not a mountaineering book. It’s a damn good story with fantastic characters set in fantastic scenery. It’s a book for anyone who loves wild places and cracking good yarns. 
There are some wonderfully philosophical gems which are a hallmark of Alex’s writing, such as the evocative summit bivvy during the chase, in the heart of the wild Cairngorm landscape. 
I love the fictional/philosophical mix of Alex’s writing and he has a wonderful eye for the unseen. He can pick a place, add a character or two, get his magic spurtle out, give it a good stir and what comes out is more than went in and you’re left thinking, nodding and smiling.
Authors thrive on word of mouth so, if you enjoy reading it, please consider leaving a review and telling your friends. I think every reader of this blog will enjoy my fictional journey into the Cairngorm mountains and I look forward to reading your feedback.

Visit my website here:
Say hello on Twitter: @alex_roddie 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Racing the thaw

 The Stuic (I**) - a classic winter scramble, making the best of a frustrating week.

For the last week I have been a tormented soul, frustrated and irritable. Good winter climbing conditions arrived, but a mix of bad luck and other responsibilities conspired - and I was left empty handed without climbing a single route.

Every evening I have watched the list of this week's winter ascents grow, and for once I haven't been able to contribute to it. My energy levels had risen to a point where spontaneous self-combustion felt inevitable, my mind a whirl of a thousand thoughts of winter.

This morning I was finally free. Just in time for the thaw to arrive….

Getting two hours sleep after my shift before leaving felt like yet another obstacle in my way. I thought of the summer, when I can indulge my "coiled spring" moments by not going to bed at all…leaving at the end of a night shift and arriving for the dawn. Things are easier in the summer. Yet it still seems like a mere interlude to endure between winters.

Beinn a'Bhuird....drool.

The Stuic - a good winter grade I with harder lines optional throughout

The lower and less steep part of The Stuic.

Heavy rime on the crags, but an extremely rapid softening of the turf started mid-morning.

I can't remember the last time I did a 19km round trip in the mountains in order to climb a grade I winter route. But a two-star classic grade I mountaineering route that is "climbable in all conditions" sounded pretty damn sweet to me this morning. As the temperature rocketed and a light drizzle started half way up "The Stuic", I was endlessly grateful I was here rather than turning around empty-handed from a harder route that was being rendered unclimbable by the thaw before my eyes.

For the first time ever, circumstances have meant the start to my winter hasn't been a good one. I guess surely that can only be a good thing…


Sunday, 10 November 2013

A stunning morning on Ben Macdui

Incredible clarity of light and great early winter conditions in the Cairngorms

I won't lie - it was a frustrating sight to see, team upon team of climbers heading into the Northern Corries towards hard mixed routes in perfect condition, knowing that there's very little in condition for me to solo yet.

But my reclusive nature was on overdrive yesterday morning, so it wasn't difficult to turn my back on the busy corries and head over the deserted Ben Macdui plateau instead.

I'm not sure even climbing a route in perfect nick would have been more worthwhile than the remarkable show of natural light that I experienced on the plateau. The winter is off to a good start.


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Above the Loch Avon Basin

A stunning winter day on the Cairngorm plateau

Patience, the virtue that eludes me so often, seems to be with me for once.

Nothing for me to climb just yet…the turf remains unfrozen and there are almost no routes in conditions yet I'd be willing to solo. So instead of the usual tearing-out-my-hair-in-frustration which comes with the first snows, today I went winter hill-walking without feeling close to bursting point, possibly for the first time ever this early-season.

If you have never been into the Loch Avon Basin, then check it out some time. I lived in Glencoe for 4 years and on Skye for a month and it remains one of the most impressive places I've ever seen in Scotland. Climbing here in summer was brilliant, but today for the first time I got to see it under a foot of snow.

I can't wait to winter climb here when the conditions arise. But for now, as a spectator…what a place!


Monday, 4 November 2013

Winter begins

Fiacaill Ridge, 4th November 2013. Winter's arrival!
The summer this year was a confusing time for me. Leaving Glencoe in the Spring was absolutely the right decision, but I had no doubts that I would come to miss it greatly. And miss it I do, despite now living in a similarly wonderful part of the world.

At first I didn't feel it at all, but it crept up on me during the summer. I didn't anticipate just how big a hole that being away from the glen would leave in me. Not being in that constant state of total immersion in the landscape felt alien, and for a couple of months I struggled with making sense of life outside of the bubble of the Clachaig and the intoxicating atmosphere of Glencoe.

Now that I am more into the rhythm of things, I am finding my new and different relationship with the mountains very rewarding. And my summer ended up being one of my most successful seasons ever, with many great days climbing amazing mountain routes on Skye and in the Cairngorms.

And some things never change. Since the end of August, as always, my thoughts have often settled on the coming winter climbing season and the brightened reality that I exist in during the colder months of the year. October arrived and I spent much of my spare time bathing in the glorious lighting and colours of a Cairngorms autumn.

This week, winter began. I climbed Fiaciall Ridge this morning to breath it in and soak it up, and to mark the start of my favourite season. All my thoughts today are the coming months, my fifth winter season living in the Highlands.

Have a great winter everyone, see you out there :-)

About a foot of fresh snow on the Cairngorm plateau.
Rime covering the rocks everywhere, but the turf hasn't frozen yet.


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Central Buttress of Coire a'Ghrunnda

 Central Buttress (Diff***), Coire a'Ghrunnda. Straight up the middle between the two narrow gullies.

I can still vividly remember my hangover on the morning of the 18th October 2011. Alex, Mark and I were climbing Ledge Route on Ben Nevis in fresh snow and we all felt like hell. Vast quantities of beer and Talisker had been drunk the night before in the Clachaig staff bothy, whilst we celebrated the early arrival of winter in the mountains. All thoughts of summer rock climbing had been shelved weeks ago and as always winter couldn't come soon enough.

Things felt a little different this October morning, as I am nursing rough fingertips from climbing 600ft of warm Cuillin rock, instead of a hangover. October is always such a question mark - will summer return for a final fling, or will a monsoon set in on the West coast that lasts for weeks?

Since my return from my month on Skye in May, I have waited eagerly in the hope of a perfect weather forecast to coincide with my days off. I've had a really good summer of climbing, but there was one route that I really wanted to solo before declaring the season a success.

A perfect day in the Cuillin

Early morning haze over one of the most beautiful routes in the country, Pinnacle Ridge

Central Buttress (Difficult ***), Coire a'Ghrunnda South Crag. It is not one of the most famous big mountaineering routes in the Cuillin, but it is probably one of the best. Twice I'd chickened out from setting off up it alone, arriving in the corrie in the wrong mood to be soloing, and a few weeks ago I stood at its base only for the rain to send me home empty-handed.

The top third of the route. Up between the two central gullies.


Coire Laggan.

A dark and frosty drive across the Highlands and the promise of the Northern Lights…it felt every inch of an autumn day that was beginning. But by the time I was in Coire a'Ghrunnda I was faced with warm, unbroken sunshine and some of the best climbing conditions I've had in the Cuillin.

Central Buttress starts the way it goes on, steep and sustained at the grade. As is so often the case with these Cuillin routes, lines of holds appeared magically as I climb up features that looked improbable from below. The rock was warm, bone dry, and the sun felt so different to its cold presence on Cairngorm on Saturday.

The arete on the left side of the central tower. Big exposure to the left, unseen in the photo.

The large pinnacle on Pinnacle Rake.

The crux tower of the route is a tease. In the guidebook it is described as "sensational climbing" and from below you see can it is obviously superb. It is also quite intimidating. But an escape is possible just beneath the crux along an easy ledge…so you have to choose to continue.

The superb crux tower. 

I'm glad I didn't go for the easy option. The crux tower was one of the best pitches of rock I've climbed at the grade in the Cuillin, possibly in Scotland. Half way up a golden eagle flew overhead and circled a few times, taunting me as the crux was too steep for any photography.

I topped out, smiled, and waited. Ten minutes later the eagle returned, I got my shot, and descended with the glassy surface of the sea shining below me.


Monday, 14 October 2013

"The Roaring Time"

 Sunrise from Stac Pollaidh.

I learnt recently that the Gaelic word for October means "the roaring time". The crisp early morning air, filled with the sound of bellowing stags, is always a welcome sign that my favourite time of year is beginning.

Every October when I lived in Glencoe, there didn't seem to be any escape from the sound of the deer rut. I would be woken during the night by the ground just outside my window being trampled, and more than once I walked out of the front door almost straight into the antlers of an over-confident stag.

I love the contrasts that exist between my new home in the Cairngorms and the Western Highlands. The autumn over here is a quite different experience and wonderful in many ways, but I have missed the feeling of energy in the air that you get in the October days in the West….the constant humdrum of the rut bringing life to a landscape which is shutting down for the season.

The incredible area of wild land of Inverpollaidh.

Friday was a "kill two birds with one stone" day. I wanted to climb, but I also longed for one of those perfect autumn sunrises from a mountain that I have so many vivid memories of. The drive to Assynt at 4:30am after only 2 hours sleep was a small price to pay for the treat I was in for.

The skies over Stac Pollaidh were dark and cloud-filled as I parked and rubbed my weary eyes. This wasn't what I'd been hoping for…but I resisted the temptation to sleep in my car and set off up the hill with my camera and tripod. It so often seems that you are rewarded for making the effort, as the sky started to clear of cloud remarkably quickly and gave way for a glorious autumn sunrise.

Loch Lurgainn

The Fiddler's Nose
I wanted to stay up there all day, breath in the frosty air and bathe in the golden light, close my eyes let the sound of the stags send me to sleep on the summit. But the urge to go climbing was just as strong, and the perfect sea-cliffs of Reiff were just down the road.

I knew I couldn't be there long, my 5pm shift at work back in the Cairngorms was beckoning. But I was there long enough to solo Midreiff (Severe*), Velvet Scooter (Severe) and the superb Moonjelly (V.Diff***) - all of which I'd never done before and gave me a short but much-needed fix.

Soloing "Midreiff" (Severe*) onsight. Unbroken sunshine at Reiff.

 Soloing "Moonjelly" (V.Diff***). Probably the best short V.Diff I've done.

Twenty-four hours later and I was stood on the summit of Cairngorm with Nicole, shivering in a freezing wind and smiling at the snow and rime-ice covering the plateau. Not a single stag to be heard in a world of white and blue and grey, very different from the golden glens of Assynt but just as exciting. That time of year again...

24 hours later on Cairngorm, a taste of winter.


Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Trekking in the Slovakian Tatras

It had been over 5 years since my last trip to the mountains of Europe. My brother and I had spent a successful month in the Alps, climbing the classic routes up 4000m peaks, getting sunburnt and fit and living like bums.

Back then I couldn't really see past ticking summits and routes. That is what a trip to the mountains was for me, and only that. I'm not sure I took much notice of my surroundings unless it was relevant for our next ascent, and I certainly didn't appreciate the sensation of simply being somewhere amazing.

But I am (a little) older and wiser now, I can see outside the bubble and have fully realised there is so much more to mountains than getting to the top of them. It feels great to have returned feeling satisfied and happy from a week in the mountains when I didn't even try to stand on a single summit or climb any routes.

On arrival in Poland, Nicole and I realised our vague plans for climbing some of the 2000m peaks in the Tatras would probably have to be shelved. Our first glimpse of an un-known summit poking through the cloud revealed heavy snow covering the slopes, and we weren't intent or equipped for winter up high.

With a forecast for cool temperatures all week we knew the snow wasn't going to shift quickly, so were quite happy to turn our attention to the stunning high valleys and passes that cut into the heart of the Tatras.

Slovakia was entirely new to me, and I was fascinated by the mix of Alpine-esque and cold war architecture, the common sight of dereliction amongst expensive ski-chalets, birds that I didn't know the names of, public transport that runs like clockwork…

As someone that has spent so much time on the Isle of Skye, the similarities between the Tatras and the Cuillin were a constant source of intrigue. There are obvious differences of course…the Tatras being higher and in the middle of a landmass, rather than amongst the coastal paradise of the Hebrides. But I lost count of the number of times I saw views of mountains that looked almost spitting images of the summits in the Cuillin that I know and love.

Bidean Druim na Ramh, Am Basteir, Sgurr nan Gillean, even Stob Ban in the Mamores…they all have a near counter-part in the Tatras. To say that we found the scenery impressive would be an understatement - in its own way even more impressive than the Alps?

Enjoy the photos!

 Lingering mist in the Dolina Roztoki valley, Poland

Fresh snowfall on Woloszyn

Lomnicky Stit, Slovakia

Incredible views above the Studena Dolina valley

Nicole in the snow at almost 2000m near Dlhe Pleso lake

 "Tatra-Tea"....tea at 32% alcohol by volume, good stuff...

 Faces in the forest...

The magnificent Vysoka 2547m, translated as "High".

Pristine forest in the Mlynicka Dolina valley

On the summit of Predne Solisko, looking for bears...

Hlinska Veza 2340m

 Tasty stuff in a market in Krakow

In the fog on the summit of Predne Solisko

Being reminded of the Highlands at 2300m in the Furkotska Dolina valley

Colours in Krakow

Glad of the extra layers at 1900m.